How Can Social Workers Respond to the Needs of Immigrants?

We are in a period of time that possibly has a greater focus on the presence and needs of immigrants than at any other period in our history. Those seeking asylum or new citizenship in a new land are not only facing pressures of leaving their old land but adopting our own.

The United States has developed a reputation for educating individuals who are prepared to meet the needs of their chosen occupation, and that is as true for health care and social work as any other field. However, many may be wondering what the mental health needs of immigrants are that need to be addressed?

Changes to Social and Personal Ties

A National Institute of Health article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal lists several mental health realities that can be expected by those professionals that are tasked with their care. The first of those immigration challenges listed would be the changes that are happening to their personal and social network ties. By relocating to another land, they are cut off from many supports upon which they previously relied. This is increased for those raising children away from extended family assistance. New social and supportive links must be established in their new land.

Moving Between Socio-Economic Systems

Next, immigrants are faced with the challenge of adjusting to new socio-economic realities. In some cases, this is a dramatic improvement, as many that are used to corrupt or oppressive systems find themselves in a land of more opportunity and personal responsibility. However, questions about their social status and acceptance in their new land can lead to anxiety about the permanence of their resettlement. Asylum seekers that find themselves in immigration centers face daily stress about their futures.

Transition From One Culture to Another

However, once the immigrant feels more at peace with their settlement, there are challenges that come with adopting a different set of cultural norms than the land of their prior residence. Facing racism and rejection by those around them can lead to depression, as "initial hopes and expectations are not realized."

Challenges in Finding Mental Health

This depression can often go untreated for long periods of time, with their difficulty of finding and employing mental health for their needs. Women in particular at increased risk of postpartum depression, yet "do not proactively seek help." Therefore, they may need direction and assurance of the mental health options available to them.

Elderly Challenges

Elderly immigrants bear all of these challenges, but they are accompanied by their physical and social limitations in funding their financial or functional needs. Immigrants that are less educated, unemployed, or physically limited face additional burdens to be placed on other families or by themselves living alone.

How We Can Help Them

It is always stressful for individuals and families to endure the stress of family relocation, and these stressors are only amplified for those immigrating to another country. If we want to show the heart of America to those entering our borders, it will do us and them well for us to learn the mental health needs of immigrants awaiting those joining our numbers and how we can assist them in that transition.